As you go into the IFM's impressive building in Rose-Hill with the huge trees growing through it, you are confronted by the hugeness of many of the installations in the pARTage exhibition, and then there is the boldness, the sheer self-confidence, of artists expressing what they believe in, in the way they want to.
The three glorious installations by Krishna Luchooman on the Diego Garcia military base, each need to be mentioned, because they are a triple-work. There is “M.P.A.”, this huge papier macheUS marine in his uniform with his rifle in his hands, sitting on the edge of an aquarium of some 50 square feet area and a foot deep, full of beautiful fish swimming around in it. But his boots are in the water in the aquarium itself. They are painted the colours and design of the Union Jack, but with blood dripping down them. The British Marine Protected Area (M.P.A. of the title), which was set up, tricking the quasi totality of British ecologists and environmentalists in supporting a trick designed to keep the people of the Chagos and Diego Garcia out of the islands, and designed to keep the Mauritian State from putting its rightful claim to complete de-colonization. The Wikileaks cables have proven this to have been a conscious trick. So, we have a work of art that boldly brings into question the sovereignty (British boots in the Indian Ocean pool) and the “elephant in the room” of the polluting military (actually nuclear) base right in the supposed Marine Protected Area. And it is witty and beautiful. The poor US soldier looks so unknowing of what he is doing. While the fish swim around innocently.
And then there is “Nine-Eleven”. It is a life-size papier mache donkey, symbol of the Chagos, and bringing back memories of the extermination project that the US armed forces had to carry out to rid Diego Garcia of the now wild donkeys on the island, and the Chagossian sega, “Burik mo tonton”. Curiously, this extermination project was on 9/11 of 1973. The donkey is in its death throes, and as we realize this, we see that its flanks have been pierced by (toy) commercial airliners. The State terrorists whose base has killed a part of the Mauritian people, as a people, by expelling them from their islands. For those unfamiliar with the truth, the donkey is covered with press cuttings about the base, about the people expelled, and about the extermination of the donkeys. A secondary meaning comes to mind, where the donkey, symbol of the US Democratic Party, is today in power and was in power at the time of the plan concocted to steal and occupy Diego Garcia and the whole of the Chagos; so there is also the symbol of the US itself being attacked mortally by its own jet airplanes.
The third of the triple-work, is “Oil Islands”, where Divali lamps (and the exhibition is over the Divali period, to make it more poignant) made of coconut halves, seem to represent the ongoing life of the people of the Chagos, and the recurrence of the light of life.
So, this is perhaps the high-point of the exhibition.
But the sugar-cane leaves, woven into the musculature of human beings draped, after being squeezed to death, through old car-tyres painted the colours of the national flag and hanging up in the air, are another high point. They are a strong critique of the country made by the sweat and tears of sugar labourers, “Percee, mette sec”. This is what Nirmal Hurry's beautiful installation is called. (The only criticism we have is the appalling orthography of his Mauritian Kreol, for all three of his fine works). The next one is a life-size Rodin “thinker” sitting on his bicycle's carrier facing backwards, and instead of thinking, he is speaking on his cell phone, and doing so for so long that spiders have made spider webs all over his bicycle and himself. It's called “Tire so difile”. (Curiously, there is another interesting “The Thinker” called “Le Penseur” by Raja Soorana, which is a clockwork, mechanical, battery-run “thinker”. Together the two works are a sharp critique of the lack of thinking of present-day society, as it hurtles to self-destruction. ) The third Nirmal Hurry is an immense installation in the shape of a tree, made up of literally thousands of shoes and pairs of shoes, of all kinds and sizes. “L'arbe Genealogique” - as though our reality, our ancestry is rooted to the ground in the shoes that link us to the earth.
Nirmala Luckeenarain has two beautiful works: one a giant patchwork women's dress, standing on its own full-length skirt. While, the future is seen as “Dark Future” in paintings that rise from etchings into darkness. Three oblong works at the bottom, and three sets of three round “lenses” getting darker and darker as we go “up”.
Mala Chummun has presented three works in glass. A coat-hung symbol of a woman, in glass, inside a big bird-cage (“Golden Cage”), an unnamed piece with four glass disks set in heavy wood, and a “bench” made instead of wood, of glass, with three single slippers showing the growth from “Birth-Death”, as the work is called – again the work with shoes reminding us of the Nirmal Hurry shoe creation.
Sultana Haukim has three pink showroom models made out of plastic, showing the way society sees women: one is covered in bar-codes, another is numbered with production and expiry dates, while the third numbers her vital statistics. It is sarcastically called “Trois graces”. Her other work is of a young girl in full regalia on show for a prospective groom's family to come and see with a view to marriage. A poignant piece – where the public eye is on a private, humiliating family ceremony.
Gerard Foy has a triptych (three panels next to one another) and a diptych (one on top of the other) of beautiful rusted iron. Plus a third of rows of rusted tin. The colours and textures are evocative of the passing of geological time, and are pleasing to the eye.
Raja Soorana's “Cocon I and II” are also interesting pieces, using light inside a plastic “skin” or cocoon.
The totality of the exhibition is magnificent. It is by pARTage, a collective of visual artists. Don't miss it. It's on until 4 November at the Institut Francais Mauricien in Rose-hill.
22 October, 2011